East Division recap

 

Sawchenko and Warriors rolling

The Moose Jaw Warriors are the hottest team in the Western Hockey League.

Zach Sawchenko is also the hottest goaltender in the WHL, but the 19-year-old Warrior believes one is naturally the byproduct of the other.

“In my four years here I think this is the best I’ve seen this team play,” Sawchenko said.

Sawchenko has won seven straight starts and became the first goalie to be named WHL goalie of the week in consecutive weeks since Edmonton’s Laurent Brossoit managed the feat in April of 2012.

Zach Sawchenko

“It’s obviously nice to recognized, but I think it’s a team award,” Sawchenko said. “We’ve come together at the right time and we’re rolling at the right time.

“We’re playing as a team. Defensively we’re tight. Offensively we’re tight. We’re all around the puck and things are going well for us.”

The Warriors (39-17-7-1) are on their first seven-game winning streak since Remembrance Day in 2011 and they have beaten Regina, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge — owners of the top-three records in the WHL — in the process.

Sawchenko has allowed 10 goals over those seven games. He boasts .950 save percentage and a 1.17 goals-against-average over the course of the streak.

“We’re winning, that’s all I really care about. It doesn’t matter if I have to make 34 saves or 15 saves. At the end of the day I have a job to do and if I do that job to the best of my ability and we’re winning, then I’m happy,” Sawchenko said.

The mood after Wednesday’s 4-3 win over Calgary was subdued and Sawchenko was quick to note that they won despite failing to play to the standard they’ve set in recent weeks.

The Warriors are seemingly locked into second place in the East Division, but motivation hasn’t been hard to find. They set a franchise record for the most road wins in a season when they collected their 20th in Saskatoon with a 2-0 win over the Blades last weekend.

“Just the other day we broke that record and I don’t know if there are other records for us to try to break, but it doesn’t matter if it’s September of the end of (March) and everything is locked up, there’s still points on the line every night,” Sawchenko said.

The Warriors also beat Swift Current 5-2 this week.

Pats seek return to dominance

The Regina Pats (44-10-7-1) had won 11 straight games at one point in February, but are 4-4-1-0 since which is their poorest run of the season.

The Pats offence broke out with a 7-0 win at home against the Swift Current Broncos. Sam Steel scored four goals and had six points as he padded his lead on top of the WHL scoring chart.

The Pats lost 5-4 in overtime against the Broncos and then lost 4-1 to Lethbridge on Tuesday as they dropped consecutive home games. Stuart Skinner made 42 saves for the Canes in a standout performance.

Pats forward Jake Leschyshyn is out for the year and with Robbie Holmes and Philip Ahl out of the lineup, the Pats called in 15-year-old Kjell Kjemhus from Pursuit of Excellence and 17-year-old Riley Krane from the  midget AAA Caribou Cougars to get up to 12 forwards. Regina’s standout defenceman Connor Hobbs once again played some minutes as a forward this week.

Broncos pick up key win over Wheaties

The Swift Current Broncos (32-20-4-6) had to play Regina twice and Moose Jaw once on the road over the course of three nights. The Broncos earned a 5-4 overtime win on Sunday against the Pats and carried the momentum forward to beat the Brandon Wheat Kings (28-26-7-3) by a 5-2 count Tuesday in a big divisional game.

The win give the Broncos an eight-point lead over the Wheat Kings and Swift Current has two games in hand. The Broncos have been in third place in the East Division for months and claiming that big four-pointer at home should do a lot to ensure they stay there.

Swift Current goalie Jordan Papirny made 38 saves in Moose Jaw in an outstanding effort and Taz Burman made 43 saves against the Pats to earn the win the next day.

Under Kelly McCrimmon the Wheat Kings had a knack for playing their best hockey late in the season and entering the playoffs on a roll.

Right now, the exact opposite is happening for the defending champions. The Wheat Kings have lost six straight games and nine of their last 10, though they have picked up a point in three of those losses.

Brandon lost 4-3 in Lethbridge and 4-0 in Medicine Hat before losing in Swift Current. They returned home and suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to Lethbridge.

Tyler Coulter has three goals in Brandon’s last four games.

If and when the Wheat Kings do reach the playoffs, they will play their first round games at Credit Union Place in Dauphin. The MJHL arena seats 2,515 and Dauphin is less than two hours north of Brandon.

The annual Manitoba Royal Winter Fair will take place from Mar. 27 to Apr. 1 and keep them out of Westman Place.

Blades snap skid, stay close

The Saskatoon Blades (24-31-6-2) snapped their five-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Prince Albert Raiders only to lose 4-2 the following night in Prince Albert. The Blades also lost 2-0 in a tight battle at home against Moose Jaw.

Despite their slump, the Blades remain two points behind Calgary for the final wild card spot. Each team has nine games remaining.

Braylon Shmyr has four points in the last four games since returning from injury. The Blades are still without defenceman Jake Kustra, plus forwards Lukus MacKenzie, Cam Hebig and Chase Wouters.

Raiders eliminated from playoffs

It seems only fitting that the Prince Albert Raiders (17-40-5-2) — a consistently tough team to beat in the second half — saw their playoff fate sealed after a great effort only earned them a point Wednesday.

The high-flying Medicine Hat Tigers made the Raiders’ fate official with a 6-5 overtime win. The Raiders had a pair of two-goal leads, but couldn’t hang on for the win against a Tigers team that has won 14 of their last 17 games.

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Matthew Gourlie

Matthew Gourlie is a freelance journalist who has covered the Western Hockey League for the past 15 years, most recently as the sport editor of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald.